January 22nd, 2023 homily on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 by Pastor Galen
Ravens Fan Club
I used to do a fair amount of traveling to other parts of the U.S. when I did college campus ministry, and frequently when someone found out that I am from Baltimore, they would say, “oh, so I guess you are a Ravens fan, right?” (For anyone wondering, of course I always answer in the affirmative! Yes I am a Ravens fan).
The truth of the matter is that I really don’t watch a lot of football. It’s difficult for me to sit still for long periods of time, and I just don’t have the patience to sit in front of a TV for three hours to watch an entire football game. But I enjoy socializing with people, and I do indeed root for the Ravens, and I remember with fondness the last time the Ravens were in the Superbowl. It was so fun to be in Baltimore! It felt like the whole city was decked out in purple. (One thing I learned during that time is that wearing a Ravens jersey on a Sunday morning counts as dressing up for church!)
I think that one of the reasons that people ask which football team you root for is that they want to know: Are you a team player who roots for your home team? Or are you someone who refuses to “jump on the bandwagon” and wants to be different from everyone else? If you live in Baltimore but don’t root for the Ravens, perhaps you moved here from another city, and still root for your hometown team. Or perhaps, like my daughter Galena, you like to root for whoever has the best mascot or uniforms in any particular game.
Some people place a lot of pride in the football, or baseball, or basketball team that they root for. It becomes a part of their identity, who they are, and no matter where they live or how much other people pressure them, they refuse to switch teams.
A Cult of Personality
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a favorite sports team that you root for, and there’s nothing wrong with loving and supporting that team until the day you die.
The problem is that some people bring that same mindset into the church! They view religious leaders sort of like their favorite football teams. They swear their allegiance and loyalty their favorite preacher, or author, or podcaster, or religious guru. They rush out to buy that person’s latest book, they’re always quoting or retweeting the latest things that person said, and they take everything that person says at face value. Part of their identity becomes wrapped up in following that particular leader.
Today there are whole churches, organizations and religious institutions that have been built around charismatic and dynamic leaders. People devote their whole lives to that particular leader, and seem to do whatever that leader says. This is what we might call a “cult of personality.”
This is essentially the situation that was happening in the church at Corinth when Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church had been divided up into factions, with some claiming that they followed Paul, who had started their church years prior. Others claimed to follow Apollos, who is described in the book of Acts as “an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24b) and seems to have pastored the Corinthian church for some time (see 1 Cor. 3:6). Others claimed to follow Cephas (the Apostle Peter), and still others claimed to follow Jesus.
The problem with all of this, of course, is that as followers of Christ we are to give allegiance and loyalty solely to Jesus Christ! Not to the pastor who baptized us, or the denominational leader we most admire, or the Christian author or podcaster that speaks to us the most. We are to place our faith and trust in Christ alone. Pastors, religious leaders, and teachers should point us toward Christ. And although there’s nothing wrong with having a favorite author or speaker or leader, they should not be the objects of our devotion. That role is reserved only for Jesus Christ.
(This is one of the many reasons for the United Methodist Church’s practice of occasionally rotating pastors to a different congregation – particularly when it is noticed that a particular congregation could benefit from the gifts and graces of a particular pastor for that season of mission and ministry. This is different from congregations who choose their own pastors – who may still have different pastors over a series of years, but have more control over who their pastor will be. In the UMC, this series of different pastoral leaders over time helps form and develop ministries in the church and community, and helps the congregation be less tied to one particular pastoral leader – and hopefully be drawn closer to Christ.)
We Belong to Christ
Now there were some in Paul’s day who proudly proclaimed, “I belong to Christ.” But rather than commending them, Paul reprimands them along with everyone else! Why was that, you might ask?
Because of the singular pronoun that they were using: “I”. “I belong to Christ,” as if the other members of their congregation didn’t! As if they were better than all of their other brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was not willing to stand for any sense of division in the church — even from those who claimed to follow Christ — if in doing so they were attempting to put down their fellow believers.
The only proper way of thinking about all of this is to use the plural personal pronoun “we.” We belong to Christ. And for this, Paul appeals to the Corinthian church and to us today, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we be in agreement and that there be no divisions among us, but that we be “united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor. 10b).
“Have the same mind.” For those of you who might pride yourself in being an independent thinker, in not jumping on the bandwagon and rooting for the same team as everyone else, that might rub you the wrong way. Perhaps you like to stand apart from the crowd, to march to the beat of your own drum. But Paul wasn’t asking the Corinthians to all dress alike or think alike, or even to act just like everyone else around them. But he is asking them to put their divisions aside, to have the same mindset, to remember the reason why they were there, to be united in one mission and one purpose, and to remember that their allegiance is to Jesus Christ, above all else. It’s only through Jesus that the Corinthians could be saved, and the same is true for us as well.
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
After all, as Paul points out, neither Paul, nor Apollos nor any of the other religious leaders that people follow today have not been crucified for us. Christ is the only one who died on the cross for the sins of the world. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they were not baptized in the name of Paul or Apollos or Cephas. They were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as we are today.
As Paul says in the book of Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. This is the mindset that Paul wanted the Corinthians to have, and this is the mindset we are called to have today as well.
We — not I, not you, but we — belong to Christ. We ultimately belong not to the individual church or denomination we’re a part of — even though we do have membership in our local church or denomination. (This is why our new membership service has been changed to say “loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church” rather than “loyal to the United Methodist Church). We belong not to the pastor or religious leader that we love to listen to. We belong not to a favorite sports team or political party. Not to an employer or a company or a bank or educational institution. We Belong to Christ.
The “Foolishness” of the Cross
As Paul acknowledges, all of this sounds rather foolish to outsiders. To those who have never experienced Christ’s saving grace, it seems crazy to worship someone who was put to death on a cross. After all, crosses were instruments of torture and death reserved only for the lowliest of criminals. Slaves who committed crimes, rebels, and traitors were hung on crosses. Roman citizens who committed even the most heinous of crimes were not hung on crosses to die. The Romans used crosses to publicly shame and humiliate anyone who dared try to revolt against the Roman Empire. It was Rome’s way of demonstrating the power of the empire and the weakness of those who tried to revolt.
But for Paul and for us, the cross represents the power of God. Because in submitting to death on the cross and in rising from the grave three days later, Jesus conquered sin and death and hell and the grave. Jesus went to the cross willingly, not out of weakness, but rather because of the strength of his love and commitment to us. Jesus willingly laid down his life for us and willingly endured the shame and public humiliation of death on the cross on our behalf, so that we could be made right with God, so that we could be born anew. Jesus did that for us.
And because Jesus willingly gave his life for us by dying on the cross, we can have peace with God and with others.
You see, although the cross may seem like foolishness to the world, for those of us who have experienced Christ’s love, grace, and mercy, even the shape of the cross has special significance. The cross has both a vertical and a horizontal element.
Vertical: The vertical beam of the cross points us upward to God, and we are reminded that in Christ, God came down to us, to reconcile us to God. The cross demonstrates God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness flowing down towards us, and because of Jesus’s death on the cross we can be made right with God.
Horizontal: The horizontal beam of the cross reminds us that the cross also reconciles us to one another. When Jesus stretched out his hands and allowed himself to be nailed to the cross, his arms were stretched out in love to welcome anyone and everyone who acknowledges Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Through the cross we are united not only to God, but to every other person on the face of this earth who claims the name of Christ, every person who looks to Jesus as the source of their hope and strength. We are united not just with each other here in our congregation, but with every believer around the world, in every church and congregation, throughout time and history. Those who lived before us, and those who will come after us.
This is the power of the cross. This is the power that raised Jesus from the grave! This is the power of the Gospel! And this is what it means when we say that We Belong to Christ.